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Primary Sources of Information on Jesus
Jesus' Life and Teaching
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke contain narratives of Jesus' birth and infancy, which disagree in many points but concur in asserting that he was the miraculously conceived son of Mary, the wife of Joseph, and that he was born at Bethlehem in Judaea. All four Gospels agree in dating his call to public ministry from the time of his baptism at the hands of John “the baptizer,” after which he took up the life of an itinerant preacher, teacher, and healer, accompanied by a small band of disciples (see apostle). The central theme of Jesus' teaching, often conveyed in the form of a parable, was the near advent of God's Reign or Kingdom, attested not merely by his words but by the “wonders” or “signs” that he performed. The chronology of this period in Jesus' life is entirely uncertain; what seems clear is that his activities evoked skepticism and hostility in high quarters, Roman as well as Jewish. After perhaps three years in Galilee, he went to Jerusalem to observe Passover. There he was received enthusiastically by the populace, but was eventually arrested and, with the cooperation of the Jewish authorities, executed under Roman law as a dangerous messianic pretender. The Gospels give relatively detailed and lengthy accounts of his last days, suggesting that the story of Jesus' Passion was a central element in early Christian oral tradition. They close with accounts of his empty tomb, discovered on the “third day,” and of his later appearances to Mary and Mary Magdalene and to the circle of his disciples as risen from the dead.
The Christian calendar revolves around the life of Jesus; important feasts include (in the Western Church) the Annunciation (Mar. 25); Christmas (Dec. 25), with its preparatory season of Advent; the Circumcision (Jan. 1); the Epiphany (Jan. 6); Candlemas (Feb. 2); and the Transfiguration (Aug. 6). The Easter cycle of movable feasts and fasts begins with Lent, which ends in Holy Week; after Easter comes the Ascension. Sunday, the Christian sabbath, is the weekly memorial of Jesus' resurrection.
Jesus in Islamic Tradition
Modern Portrayals of Jesus
Starting with the advent of historical criticism in the late 18th cent. (see higher criticism), scholars increasingly recognized that the Gospels were written from the point of view of the original Christian believers, who were more likely than moderns to accept supernatural occurrences and explanations. Thus in the 19th cent. many attempts were made to reconstruct by historical and critical methods a picture of Jesus that corresponded more closely to modern ideas of reality. The most famous of these lives of Jesus is that of Ernest Renan (1863). Albert Schweitzer's Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906, tr. 1910) is in large part a survey of this literature and its shortcomings. Schweitzer's work brought an end to a series of historical reconstructions of the life of Jesus and demonstrated that the eschatological focus of the Gospels was not something to be discarded in the attempt to encounter the historical Jesus.
Many scholars in the first half of the 20th cent. argued that the Gospels were narrative proclamations imbued with faith and not in any sense objective presentations of the life and teaching of Jesus. Two leading figures of this attitude were Rudolf Bultmann and his student Ernst Käsemann; in the early 1950s they sought to link the historical Jesus and the Jesus confessed by the church.
In the 1970s research into the historical Jesus took a new turn. Geza Vermes published Jesus the Jew (1973), in which he attempted to place Jesus squarely in the Jewish milieu of the 1st cent. The Jewishness of Jesus has increasingly been the focus of Jewish and Christian scholarship. This approach takes a much more optimistic view of the historicity of the Gospel traditions. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has allowed comparison of the Gospels with the brand of Judaism represented in the scrolls. Still other contemporary scholars have sought to portray Jesus as a charismatic teacher of subversive wisdom.
See G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew (1973); M. Grant, Jesus: An Historian's View of the Gospels (1977); J. P. Mackey, Jesus, the Man and the Myth (1979); J. D. G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus (1985); E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (1985); M. Casey, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God (1991); J. D. Crossan, The Historical Jesus (1991); J. P. Meier, A Marginal Jew (3 vol., 1991–2001); D. Flusser, Jesus (2d ed. 1997); T. Cahill, Desire of the Everlasting Hills (1999); P. Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews (1999). For a survey of Jesus in art and literature, see J. Pelikan, Jesus through the Centuries (1985).
(Greek Christós, “anointed one”), also called Jesus Christ, in Christian church teaching, the founder of Christianity. According to Gospel mythology, Christ was begotten by the “Holy Spirit” and was born of Mary, the wife of Joseph, in Bethlehem. As an infant Christ was taken to Egypt to escape from Herod I. He returned to Palestine and was baptized by John the Baptist. Gathering around him 12 disciples, among them Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Judas, he traveled throughout Palestine, preaching and working miracles. After being betrayed in Jerusalem by Judas for 30 pieces of silver, Christ was condemned to death during Passover week by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate along with two thieves. He was crucified, died, and was buried, but “after the Sabbath was over” he rose from the dead. An “antilegend” about Christ has also come down to us through the second-century Roman writer Celsus and in the Talmud and other sources according to which Christ was the son of Mary and the Roman soldier Panthera (Pandira) and was stoned to death for sorcery. Christian theology of the second, third, and fourth centuries developed the idea, alluded to in the New Testament, that Christ was the son of god, and he came to be regarded as the second person of the trinity. Orthodox Christianity conceived of Christ as god-man, in whom the human and the divine were united.
The question of the historical existence of Christ has provoked sharp controversy among specialists in religion. There are two basic schools of thought, the mythological and the historical. The first perceives Christ as a mythical figure, created out of totem beliefs or agricultural cults similar to those of Osiris and Tammuz. Some scholars regard the myth of Christ as a variant of the Buddha legend or the product of astrological speculation. The second school maintains that Christ is a historical person, citing as evidence the references to Christ contained in the works of Josephus Flavius and Tacitus, the second-century antilegends about Christ (which deny not his existence but his supposed divinity), and the early origin of the Gospels (papyrus fragments of the Gospel of St. John dating from the early second century). Among the arguments put forward by adherents of the mythological school are the discrepancies in the New Testament stories about Christ, the abundance of miracles ascribed to him, the errors in the description of the life and natural environment of Palestine, and the absence of information about Christ in the works of Greco-Roman writers of the first century. (The school disputes the authenticity of the references to Christ in the writings of Josephus Flavius and Tacitus.) Some historians of the mythological school contend that the Gospels were written at the end of the second century, that is, much later than the life of Christ that they describe, and that the image of Christ in the Gospels emerged under the influence of Plutarch.
Occupying an important place in medieval literature and art, Christ remained at the center of attention of the Renaissance artists. In modern times, Christ was perceived as a moral ideal (L. Tolstoy), as a revolutionary rebel (K. Kautsky), and as a hero-martyr (E. Renan).
REFERENCESDrews, A. Otritsanie istorichnosti lisusa v proshlom i nastoiashchem. Moscow, 1930. (Translated from German.)
Couchoud, P. Zagadka lisusa. Moscow, 1930. (Translated from French.)
Kublanov, M. M. lisus Khristos—bog, chelovek, mif? Moscow, 1964.
Kazhdan, A. “Istoricheskoe zerno predaniia ob Iisuse.” Nauka i religiia, 1966, no. 2.
Kryvelev, I. A. Chto znaet istoriia ob Iisuse Khriste? Moscow, 1969.
Kryvelev, I. A. Istoriia religii, vol. 1. Moscow, 1975. Pages 145–155.